Thunder upsets Gogebic, Itasca for first wins

After playing his first-ever college basketball game for Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College back in November, Kolten Karppinen noticed the team chemistry was nonexistent.

Freshman guard Kolten Karppinen drives the ball to the bucket Saturday against Itasca Community College at the Lester Jack Briggs Cultural Center in Cloquet. Karppinen finished the game with four 3-pointers for 12 points, helping guide the Thunder to a 79-60 win over the Vikings. FDLTCC has now won two games in a row and their team chemistry continues to grow in the third year of the program. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

After playing his first-ever college basketball game for Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College back in November, Kolten Karppinen noticed the team chemistry was nonexistent.

Two months later, things have changed.

Following 12 straight losses to open their winter campaign, the Thunder have strung together back-to-back home victories, upsetting Gogebic 87-82 last Monday in overtime and manhandling Itasca 79-60 Saturday.

"It's been huge," said Karppinen. "At the beginning of the season, none of us were on the same page at all. But it seems like every game, we get closer and closer chemistry-wise. We're all pretty pumped."

His coach concurred.


"The key is that these guys are now playing together," said third-year director David Wilson. "I've been telling them all year: if you play together, good things can happen. Now they're doing that and a lot can be accomplished."

Karppinen, a deadly shooting guard who led AlBrook to the section finals a winter ago, has quickly adjusted to the college game. The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder has started every contest for the Thunder thus far.

"Kolten really brings a lot to the table," said Wilson. "Against Gogebic, he drew a double team to allow us to make a game-tying shot at the buzzer, while he extended Itasca's zone Saturday with his threes. He's a local kid who has really lifted the team this year. He's a good player and his teammates believe in him."

Karppinen nailed four of his eight 3-point attempts against the Vikings Saturday, including three in a row that stretched Itasca's zone defense into man-to-man which, in turn, allowed FDLTCC (2-12) to take off.

Karppinen finished Saturday afternoon with 12 points. He was one of five Thunder players in double figures, including fellow freshmen Alton Dixon, Tyler Campbell, Carlos Holcey and Gary Braden with 16, 13, 12 and 11, respectively.

"Kolten shot the ball well in both games," said Wilson. "I know he's a great shooter."

The small-town boy from Brookston, the only local player on the 11-man Thunder roster, has been playing hoops since his elementary days at AlBrook. Karppinen figured he began playing basketball in fifth or sixth grade. He instantly fell in love and has excelled ever since. Currently he still lives at home, but makes the daily trip to the college to improve his game.

And his secret to his long shot? He doesn't even know.


"I don't know how it happened," said Karppinen, laughing. "I just kept shooting."

Karppinen is one of eight freshmen on FDLTCC's youthful squad this year. The returning players include Justin Roberts, Greg Gillespie and Harrison Woods. Despite their young lineup, Wilson can see his Thunder team is coming together.

That's a good thing, as they're seeking their first playoff appearance ever.

"The top four teams make it, we got fifth the past two years," said Wilson. "Right now, our team morale is good. These guys are learning and playing good basketball. We're in the hunt. Hopefully we can keep things going."

The Thunder currently sits near the bottom of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference's Northern Division, yet a plethora of crucial leagues tests remain. They were back in action Wednesday evening at Hibbing when this edition of the Pine Journal went to press.

FDLTCC will welcome Northland on Saturday at 1 p.m., before hosting their "Fill the Gym Night" against Rainy River at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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